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Sunday June 24th, 2018 3:10AM

Wilpon defends payroll as Mets announce medical changes

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon defended the team's offseason spending, saying more moves are likely before opening day and during the season.

"Being top five in payroll, I don't think that won us a World Series," he said Tuesday during a media gathering. "So we're set out to make the playoffs and do well ... try to win the World Series, not try and be at the top five in payroll."

New York started last season at $157 million for its 40-man roster and cut it to $149 million as the team faded from contention following a series of injuries. Two years after reaching the World Series, the Mets went 70-92 for their worst record since 2009.

This year's payroll projects to be in the $140 million range after the New York gave outfielder Jay Bruce a $39 million, three-year contract and reliever Anthony Swarzak a $14 million, two-year deal.

"I get what the fan perception is. It's not something that's lost on any of us," Wilpon said. "I understand the fan base's frustration and we have the same frustration."

New York lost pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler to injuries last year along with closer Jeurys Familia and slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. After the season, the Mets fired manager Terry Collins, pitching coach Dan Warthen and head athletic trainer Ray Ramirez.

Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway took over as New York's manager and Dave Eiland as pitching coach.

Jim Cavallini's hiring as the Mets' director of performance and sports science was announced Tuesday. He had spent eight years with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, most recently as its director of performance at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Syndergaard was limited to seven starts and 30 1/3 innings last year, when he refused a medical scan and then tore the latissimus dorsi behind his right arm on April 30. He had bulked up the previous offseason.

"That became kind of the signature for the entire 2017 season. So, yeah, it had an impact. It wasn't the only factor," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We needed to take a new look at how we were handling all of those injuries. And it's not just the number of injuries, it's how quickly players are coming back."

New York had 22 players combine for 1,489 days on the disabled list. That was the seventh-most days lost behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (a big league-high 1,774), San Diego, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston and the Los Angeles Angels, according to Major League Baseball.

"One of the things I think has already changed is the way in which our pitchers have approached the offseason," Alderson said. "Given the fact that we've had some of injuries with our pitchers, I think something a little more scripted was in order."

David Wright, the Mets' 35-year-old captain and third baseman, remains a health concern. He was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24, 2015, when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He returned as the Mets won their first NL pennant since 2000 but has not played for them since May 27, 2016. Dr. Robert Watkins operated that June 16 to repair a herniated disk in Wright's neck. After Wright's rehabilitation was slowed by shoulder pain last year, Wright had surgery Sept. 5 to repair his right rotator cuff, and Watkins performed a laminotomy in early October in which a bony layer over the spinal canal was removed to treat nerve compression.

"We will assess him for baseball activity when he arrives in St. Lucie, which I believe will be around the first of February," Alderson said. "At this point he hasn't been hitting, he hasn't been doing any baseball activity."

A seven-time All-Star, Wright is guaranteed $47 million by the Mets over the next three seasons. Wilpon said insurance reimburses 75 percent annually after a deductible is met.

"You can never fully dismiss the fact that David may be back. On the other hand you can't fully presume that he is," Alderson said.

Harvey, coming back from surgery in July 2016 to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, was on the DL from June 15 to Sept. 2 last year because of a stress injury to the scapula bone in his right shoulder and finished 5-7 with a career-worst 6.70 ERA in 18 starts and one relief appearance.

"One of the hurdles he'll have to overcome this year is mental in getting his confidence back," Alderson said.

NOTES: New York agreed to a minor league contract with infielder Ty Kelly. ... Alderson said the team had preliminary talks on a long-term contract with RHP Jacob deGrom before agreeing to a $7.4 million, one-year deal this month. ... Brian Chicklo was promoted to head trainer from assistant trainer and moved Joseph Golia to assistant trainer from minor league medical coordinator. Alderson said additional trainers had been hired in the minor league system.

___

For more AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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